Saturday, April 23, 2016

Time usage

The good news is that I replaced a lot of clueless trial & error by logical thinking. The bad news is that logical thinking takes an awful lot of time, so that the nett result is an improvement of only 50 points in rating. Hence the hunt for possibilities to simplify logical thinking is open. In the last years the main motive for seeking chess improvement has been narrowing down to the mere curiosity how the mind works. I'm happy to see that enjoyment in the exercises themselves comes back due to adding logical thinking to the positions. So far I found the following causes of possibly uneconomic time usage:
  • decide with which piece to capture
  • decide which escape square is the best
  • decide which order of moves is best
  • decide whether the counter attack is dangerous or not
  • declining a good move 
  • repetition of lines which are not working

Decide with which piece to capture
What I need is a decision model. If the piece to capture is defended, then the piece with the lowest value should be considered first. But with the knight or the bishop? When to use a piece with a higher value like the rook or the queen? If a piece of my own is under attack, it is best to trade it off as first. Etcetera.
Diagram 1 black to move
3rr2k/1p4p1/p4b1p/1PR5/3B3P/1QPq2P1/5P2/1R4K1 b - - 1 1

It took me a minute to decide whether 1. ... Bxd4 or 1. ... Rxd4 is best.
It should be possible to decide that faster, don't you think?

Decide which escape square is the best
I seem to have a special talent to choose the wrong escape square. I need a decision model. Which escape square prevent further checks? Which king move has an attacking value? Which king move defends a crucial piece?

Diagram 2 white to escape check
8/5ppk/2R4p/1R2p3/3q4/3P1PP1/4r1KP/2Q5 w - - 0 2

After winning a rook, the only thing to do is to bring the king into safety. Why must that take an awful lot of time?

Decide which order of moves is best
 Sometimes you perfectly know which moves play a crucial role in the combination, but you need an awful lot of time to put them in the right order.

Diagram 3 white to move
r3r1k1/ppp2pb1/6p1/q2n1nB1/4N3/1P1Q1P1R/P1P1N3/2K4R w - - 0 1

What should I do first:

It takes a lot of time to work out the right move order. Why? Are there ways to improve on that?

Decide whether the counter attack is dangerous or not

Diagram 4 black to move
6qk/pp5p/8/P2P4/B4n2/5P1P/6r1/4RQ1K b - - 1 1

Of course I know which move I want to make. But will the counter attack peter out? It took me 2:20 min more than average to find out. Are there ways to do it faster?

Declining a good move
Sometimes you decide to look not further in a certain line since your gut feeling tells it would not work. That prevents you from calculating a whole bunch of superfluous lines. Grandmasters calculate much less lines than amateurs. But when your gut feeling is wrong, you are toast.

Diagram 5 white to move
R6n/1p2r1pk/p1p4p/3qBP2/6P1/4Q2P/PP5K/8 w - - 1 1

I declined the move 1.Qxh6+ in the first minute of investigation, since I thought the black king could escape. It took me 8 minutes (!) to decline all other possibilities and to have a closer look at the move.

Repetition of lines which are not working
When the lines I investigate don't lead to a solution, I tend to keep grinding the same moves over and over again. They look so tempting, but they do not work. Repeating your thoughts is a bad habit which takes an enormous amount of time. It seems to be a case of mental paralysis. In fact I'm clueless. The thought process is designed to take me out of that paralysis. Besides that, I'm making a list of themes I tend to miss.

Time is not on my side


  1. How I approached diagram 1:

    Instead of trying to immediately resolve the capturing sequence on square d4, I began by looking at all of the actual and potential interactions ("connections" if you will) over the entire board. Although the conundrum of 1. ... Bad4 vis-a-vis 1. ... Rxd4 is the most obvious conflict, there are some other "telltales" which assist in resolving the capture question. If you look at the interaction between the Black Queen, the White Queen and the White Rook at b1, you find certain dependencies of attack and defense (based on the geometrical motif and the function motif - yeah, I know: NOT those motifs again! 'Fraid so. . .). The Black Queen is "attacking" the White Queen A-N-D the White Rook. (Yes, I know that there is a White Pawn on c3 blocking the "attack" on the White Queen, but that Pawn will go to d4 after Black captures on d4 (the compulsion to recapture to avoid material loss). Suppose that we could "attack" the White King AND the White Rook with a Black piece that is (presently) not otherwise performing any particularly useful function. Hmmm, BR(e8)-e1+ fulfills that requirement: the White King is attacked, the White Rook (b1) is now attacked twice and the White Queen is attacked, overloading the White Rook (b1). So, White either loses the Rook or the Queen. But the problem is that there is that WPc3. So, the focus returns to the original point of interest at d4. Assume that the capture should be done with the lowest value piece. (If this turns out to be "not so good," we can always go back and try the capture with the Rook.) It's fairly easy to "see" that 1. ... Bxd4 2. cxd4 opens up the situation previously described. Now 2. ... Re1+ and White must decide what and how he is going to lose material. 3. Rxe1 Qxb3 or 3. K moves Qxb1. Count up the material: White is significantly behind in both cases. That certainly seems satisfactory, but perhaps the initial Rook capture might be better. (E. Lasker: "When you see a good move, look for a better one!") 1. ... Rxd4 2. cxd4 Re1+ 3. Rxe1 Qxb3 or 3. K moves Qxb1. Count up the material and White is still significantly behind in material but not quite as much as in the other line with 1. ... Bxd4. So, by process of elimination, 1. ...Bxd4 2. cxd4 Re1+ 3. Rxe1 Qxb3 seems to be the winning line because the position is now quiescent.

    Perhaps the thinking "problem" is to allow the attention of the vision to be focused by the obvious and immediate exchange possibilities, rather than the hidden potentialities between pieces that (in the beginning position) do not directly exist. I don't know what impact it would have on your thinking process, but I find the hidden "ideas" much more often (and faster too) when I approach a problem this way. I also stumble when the position is drop-dead "simple" because I'm looking at all the connections (or at least, trying to look at all of them).

    Perhaps it's a possible way to try to leverage all of the prior tactical training at a somewhat more abstract viewpoint. Instead of looking for THE "solution" as a sequence of moves, look for as many potential "connections" as possible. In most cases (in tactical problems), there are only a few of these potentialities at a small number of squares. That provides the capability to focus in on the relevant squares/pieces/relationships and then try candidate moves.

    I hope that is of some help, regardless of how muddled it may appear to be.

    1. This position isn't exactly the mother of all hesitation between which piece to capture with, but as an example it will do. At average, people solve this position in 40 seconds, while I used 1:34 min. I solved the problem in about 30 seconds, so what have I been doing the remaining minute?
      I found out that I have been busy to decide between 1. ... Bxd4 and 1. ... Rxd4 during that minute.

      My "gut feeling" tells me there should be ways to decide between 1. ... Bxd4 and 1. ... Rxd4 in 10 seconds. That would make me 2.35 times faster ;)

      I will collect positions with this type of decision, in order to figure out the exact rules that govern such decisions. I figure that the cause that it takes me a minute to decide, is that I was looking for a reason why Rxd4 would be better. Looking for something that isn't there always consumes a lot of time.

      It is a matter of function of the pieces in the first place of course. When you have to decide between a capture with a knight or a bishop, no value difference is involved.

    2. Most people will calculate 1...Bxd4 as a winning move and then go for it. If you try to exchange pieces you try to take with the piece of lowest value first.
      So i am shure most people did not look for the refutation of 1...Rxd4
      The "reason" why 1...Rxd4 is wrong is
      1) The move will be "an exchange" in material less
      2) it weakens the own backrank. Now there is Rc8+ and Qg8+ in the air
      But im shure that 90+++% did not look that far

  2. A few words about your diagrams

    The pattern : Queen attackes Queen which is defended by Rook at backrank which can be deflected by rook giving check at backrank is sooooo common!!!
    And if you take you usually take with the piece of lowest value first.
    Even with a perfect thinking process.. board vision and tactical vision are No 1.

    Thats simple calculation: King is in check, 3 possible moves
    1. Kf1 Qf2#
    1. Kh1 Qf2 2.Dh1 Df3+ 3.Dg2 Dg3+
    So white has to Play Kh3

    You start with the most forcing
    1.) Rh8+ Bxh8 aaaannnd nothing?

    there is only one move with a chance to win so move 1 is "easy"
    3... Kf7 is hard to find


    My general pseudocode up to the critical decision is:
    1. Count material
    2. Think a moment about opponents last move
    3. Decide it the puzzle is about Checkmate,gain of material, pawn promotion
    this is done by checking the Kingsafty first:
    At D5 we have 3 Attackers and 2 unhappy defenders so its about "checkmate" and then i have futher a rule: If puzzle is about checkmate then try "hard" to find a mate.
    This does mean that i calculate more and deeper lines then "usual".
    But sometimes we make a wrong decision.. thats the moment to learn something new , here its a matingpattern or to "reset" in time?

    1. Ad D1: the backrank pattern is very common indeed. Usually in positions where the opponents king can escape, the wood is gained because there is an undefended rook at a1. This position is a little different, since it is the fact that the black queen already attacks Rb1 that makes the combination work. Analysing this position learned me this second method to gain wood out of this soooo common pattern ;)

  3. How I approached diagram 2:

    There are 3 moves by the White King to get out of check: 1. WKf1, 1. WKh1, and 1. WKh3.

    Dispensing with the "obvious" (perhaps), 1. WKf1 allows 1. ... BQf2#. Not a good outcome, so throw that one out.

    Perhaps hiding the King in the corner on h1 is better? This one takes more effort than the others. 1. ... BQf2 (threatening mate) 2. WQg1 (stopping mate) BRe1 (pinning the White Queen) and Black is still in the game. Since White is to move, it is presumed that White should come out ahead.

    My "gut feeling" was to pick 1. WKh3, but I put it off until last. Why? Because I could "see" the mate threat on f2 immediately. On the other hand, I could not "see" the win of the White Queen for the Black Rook immediately. So, before investigating the one I really wanted to investigate, I figured I'd eliminate the other two first.

    After 1. WKh3 there appeared to be no immediate mate threat from Black forcing the White King up the board. After 1. ... Qf2 (threatening a check and driving the White King forward), White plays 2. WQh1, protecting both h2 and f3 and the "attack" is over. Black cannot continue to attack the White King, giving White time to bring the Rooks back into play to defend the King. Counting up the material, Black is down a Rook.

    Would I always start investigating the moves that I don't have a "gut feeling" for, and save the one I really feel like playing until last? Definitely not! The "process" of elimination was "flavored" by your comment that the goal was to escape check. My mind sometimes goes backwards from most people.

    1. Again this position isn't the mother of all king escapes. I made an error by putting the king on h1 where it is "usually safe" in comparison to h3 where it can be harassed by pawns. Without checking it, I assumed that white's Qg1 would defend against all mate threats. Avoiding errors = excessive time usage, so I treat an error and excessive time usage as one and the same thing.

      This position mainly reminded me at all those complicated positions where 4 out of 5 king escapes leads to disaster. My gut feeling is always wrong, at least so it feels. Probably it is only wrong 4 out of 5 times ;)

      What I need here is a better approach than my gut feeling. A systematic check-list, or something like that.

  4. Here's how I approached diagram 3:

    Using the geometrical motif, I "saw" the stock mating pattern with WB at f6 with a WR at h8. What was the trigger for "seeing" that mating theme? Surprisingly, it was the position of the Black Pawns at f7 and g6, combined with the fianchettoed Black Bishop at g7, and the two White Rooks on the h file. I also noticed that Black can start a nasty attack using the Black Queen, Black Knight and Black Bishop. Since it's a tactical "solution" that is to be found, the first thought is to sacrifice the White Queen on d5. The White Bishop prevents a possible pin of the White Queen to the White King at d1 (after Black checks on a3; it would be stupid to play WKb1, allowing Black to checkmate on b2), so it seems safe to sacrifice the White Queen. I then realized that with the Black Knight gone, the White Knight could fork the Black King and Black Queen. This appears to force Black to take the White Knight. After the recapture by the White Bishop, the stock mating position has been set up. 1. WQxd5 BQxd5 2. WNf6+ (forking the Black Queen) 2. ... BKf1 3. WNxd5 with White up by a Knight, or 2. ... BBxf6 3. WBxf6 and Black cannot avoid checkmate on h8.

    Part of the reason that I calculate material balance at the end (rather than as I go) is because there might be other tactical "shots" that I want to investigate, that don't become intuitively obvious until I have investigated the individual moves. As important as it is to count material and try to maintain some kind of balance (ONLY AT QUIESCENT POINTS), I've found that I am much more open to tactical shots and combinations if I just ignore the material balance and focus on the piece interrelationships. In a lot of situations, it is more important to count the "control" of specific squares rather than the material balance. Each and every piece has exactly one and only one capture capability on a specific square. A Queen does not have more capture capability on a given square than a Pawn. I use that idea to simplify my thinking, while avoiding being trapped in a materialistic mindset. It makes it easier to contemplate dropping material while analyzing the potential effects of the configuration(s) of the pieces. Perhaps it's just another of my "crazy" ideas about chess. . .

    1. Your approach contains some good idea's. Counting during calculation causes a memory overload error in complex positions, so we might be better off to postpone it after we have figured out the combination. Maybe we can even go a step further, by splitting it up a bit further. There is an absolute counting and a relative counting. The absolute counting gives the exact material balance of a position at any given moment. The relative counting only counts the difference between the start of the combination and the current position. When your opponent just reacts to your moves, it should be possible to know whether you are up or down, relatively, just by following your gut feeling (I invest a rook, I get back a queen, etc.).

      When there is a counter attack involved in the position, matters become too complex. I cannot shift my attention back and forth to my attack and my opponents attack, plus counting the material balance all the time. Maybe then the best way is to postpone the counting altogether to after figuring out the combination.

      I'm going to experiment with this.

  5. Here's how I approached diagram 4:

    With the White Queen on f1, there appears to be no square clearance sacrifice of the Black Rook. The only "threat" available is 1. ... BQg3, which threatens checkmate next move. At this point, I stopped looking at this problem and moved on to diagram 5. BIG MISTAKE! After reading the "clue" again, I realized that White can start a checking sequence that could prove to be fatal - to Black. One area that I am severely deficient is in situations that allow a Queen to begin a series of seemingly endless checks. It gets worse if there is a lot of "open air" around my King. I could "see" 2. WRe8+ (protected by the WBa4) BKg7 (forced) 3. WQa1+ and the Black King is either forced to his third rank (h6 or g6) or must play to f7. Moving to either h6 or g6 allows nasty things to happen, so (by process of elimination) 3. ... BKf7. What I did NOT "see" at this point was 4. WRe7+! Again, I stopped after 3. ... BKf7, thinking that White would have to (unsuccessfully) deal with the mate threat on either h2 or h3. WRONG! What is needed is to determine if Black's King will ever find a safe haven (only one little tempo is required) after the sacrifice of the White Rook with 4. WRe7+! I'm holding off on finishing that analysis until I have more time to think about it. Ergo, I failed this one completely.

  6. Here's how I approached diagram 5:

    I "backed" into the solution using the geomettrical motif, combined with a stock mating attack. The combination of WB "attacking" h8 would protect the White Rook (IF it can get there AND if the g7 is "missing in action. The White Pawn also played a role in that perception, creating a visual "corridor mate" scenario by preventing the Black King from moving to g6 to get out of check. There are only two "problems" to solve. 1. WQxh6+ forces Black to play either 1. ... gxh6 or 1. ... Kxh6. It seems easiest to utilize the stock corridor mate first, so I looked at 1. ... gxh6 first. 2. WRh8# certainly seems convincing. So, the harder 1. ... BKxh6 must be examined. After 2. WRxh8+ BKg5 (forced) 3. WRh5# seems obvious. All I did after mentally visualizing the Black King at g5 was to determine if there was a protected square in the "box" around the Black King (created by the White Bishop and the White Pawns) that would allow a check by the White Rook. The h5 square is protected by a White Pawn, so the conclusion follows immediately.

    I am very curious as to WHY it took 8 minutes to determine that the Black King cannot get out of the "box" at g5. I know you have the tactical capability to solve this kind of problem quickly.

    1. I looked at Qxh6 very briefly early on. I thought that the black king could escape the mate via g5 - f4.
      What I missed was the aura of the white bishop at e5, which covers f4. I went on investigating other possibilities for 8 minutes. Then I returned back to Qxh6+ after those 8 minutes, and saw within 10 seconds that the black king could not escape via f4, and hence the mate.

      A bit of piece aura vision would have made me 8 times faster on this one ;)

  7. I need a word that comprises CCT (Checks, Captures, Threats). What would be a good term for that?

  8. I think the word you are looking for is "FORCING". There is an obvious hierarchy to "forcing" moves: checks are the most forcing moves (you MUST do something to get out of check or the game is over), captures are somewhat forcing (the necessity to maintain/restore material balance EVENTUALLY), and threats may or may not be forcing, depending on whether you can find an Equal or Greater Threat (EGT) which allows you to ignore the threat (at least for some time). There is also a temporal displacement involved in the hierarchy: checks must be responded to IMMEDIATELY, recaptures MAY have to be responded to very soon, and threats can be somewhat deferred in time. It is because threats can fall along an extended spectrum of time that we have such difficulty recognizing them soon enough to counter them.

    BTW, I take no credit for the term "forcing." Many others (too many to list all of them, but Heisman and Hertan come immediately to mind) have used that term in their books. Some use the shorthand CCT to indicate forcing moves.

    1. The study of "the initiative" is going to be a main object for developing chess logic. Not only is there a "quality" in forcing moves, but there is a quantity too that needs to be counted. Say I have 3 forcing moves, and my opponent has 4 forcing moves, I must not only look for moves that are consistent with the hierarchy in forcefulness, but I must also try to change the amount of forcing moves.

      If I have two attackers which can capture the same knight, and one of my attackers is under attack himself, and I take the knight with the latter, than I change the amount and distribution of the forcing moves. I not only execute a capture, but I prevent my opponent from executing one himself.

      These double function moves are the bread and butter of preserving the initiative. Little is known about this in literature, at least I did not come across it.

      In Dutch I use the equivalent of "threat", but since that word has already another meaning, it would be confusing to do the same while writing a blog post. Maybe the word "attack" is the most simple solution to my question. Combined with "forcing" and its derivatives, and maybe I should use CCT as a noun. Anyway, I'm sure I'm going to produce some confusing language while writing about the initiative. To all: feel free to ask for clarification when I leave you behind in the mist.

  9. I am not sure what you are really talking about but there are at least THREE words that come to my mind - if I understand you correctly:

    1) FORCED - as described by Robert; it reminds my computer "killer" moves and if you play too soft, some aggresive moves force you to respond as your opponent wishes.

    2) ACTIVE - very close to the definition above, but in my understanding, the term "active move" means it gives something position, but not (such) "forced" like terms above. It is the opposition of "pasive" when you simply wait and do nothing, but stays in the same place (shuffling back and forth without the intention of doing any harm to your opponent).

    3) ACCORDING to the needs of the position. It means the move is logical and it must be played due to the nature (type) of the position. As far as I remember the moves are called "moves with the accordance to the needs of the position". Probably used by GM Kotov.

    And some comments about your statement: "If I have two attackers which can capture the same knight, and one of my attackers is under attack himself, and I take the knight with the latter, than I change the amount and distribution of the forcing moves. I not only execute a capture, but I prevent my opponent from executing one himself".

    I am not sure, but I think some of such findings are presented at chess literature, but not commonly widespread. The reason is simple: it is so called "analytical and scientific approach" and chess players prefer "practical approach" that helps them winning (no matter what the science or scientific approach says about it).

    And to sum up: I do not know if you think the same way as me - about forced moves and the power of forcing your opponent to do anything.

    "Say I have 3 forcing moves, and my opponent has 4 forcing moves, I must not only look for moves that are consistent with the hierarchy in forcefulness, but I must also try to change the amount of forcing moves."
    In my investigation it turned out that it is not that important how many forced moves your opponent has unless you realize your plan and do not allow your opponent to refute your own. But when I think it over - it may be possible that limiting the forcing moves may stop your opponent from creating and executing his own (powerful) plan. And it is equal to your findings - "limitation of forcing moves to your opponent".

    ALWAYS try to show your ideas at simple (chess) examples - this way I could be sure if I think the same way as you. It is extremally helpful to me as I rarely fully understand your concept and explanation. Anyway - great journey into the intricaties of chess ideas! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and conclusions!

    1. No worries, a concrete example has already been chosen, and a post is in the making, but as usual, I don't know where my reasoning will lead me to, yet.

  10. These are among your best posts. When i started to look at simpler problems that i consistently failed to solve, it was a turning point for me. Number 5 is a pulling the king into the well problem. A key sign for me to identify is the pawn structure that prevents a run toward center of the board.